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If you are new to the world of Belgian beer, you'll want to start with "lighter" style ales that aren't too different from what you already know.
- Blonde & Golden Ales - Blonde ales are often milder and sweeter than Golden ales. With high carbonation and Pilsner malt sweetness, Blondes have a dry finish. Golden ales are not totally dissimilar to Blondes but with more fruity and spicy flavors. High in alcohol, Golden ales are also similar to Tripels, but tend to be drier, lighter in color, and a bit more bitter.
- Brown & Brune Ales - With colors running from dark amber to deep garnet, Browns have a wide stylistic range. They may be dry or sweet, with malt and yeast flavors usually predominating, and a low level of bitterness. ABV also ranges widely, from 6% to 11%. The style overlaps with that of the Belgian Dubbel, which tends to be lower in alcohol and less spicy.
- White Ales (or Witbiers) - White Ale, so called for its very pale, often cloudy appearance, is made with a mixture of wheat & barley. Coriander and orange peel are usually added to the brew, and Witbiers may include other herbs as well. Aromas often include wheat, citrus, and spice. The flavor is crisp and light, with a hint of tartness. ABV is in the moderate range from 4.5% to 7%.
If you've tried some of the above styles and would like to explore more, here are some style descriptions that might help you find something you like.
- Dubbels - A rich malty ale, the Belgian Dubbel is typically dark-amber to brown in color, with a moderate ABV - usually in the neighborhood of 7% to 8%. In the pour, look for expressive carbonation and a creamy head. Bottle-conditioning balances subtle notes of dark fruits and spice with mild bitterness and roasted malt in a fairly heavy body.
- Tripels - The Belgian Tripel is a spicy, strong ale, typically pale or golden in color, with a pronounced ABV from 7% to 12%. Expect a medium to full body with lively carbonation and aromas. Bottle-conditioning yields flavor notes ranging from spicy to fruity to floral. Bitterness may vary from soft to sharp, and the finish is often delicate and dry.
- Quadrupels - The Quadrupel is a strong malty ale, typically dark red to dark brown in color, with an ABV usually in excess of 10%. Bottle-conditioning yields flavors ranging from straightforward spicy notes to subtle fruits and florals, and even chocolates and caramels. Quads respond well to respectful cellaring, which deepens their character and complexity.
- Saisons - Most Saisons are a cloudy golden color as result of pale or pilsner malt. Darker malts result in some being reddish-amber. Spices such as orange zest, coriander, and ginger are sometimes used. Saisons are traditionally low in alcohol (around 3.5%), but modern-day versions tend to have a higher ABV.
- Sour Ales - Belgian Sour Ales can be Red or Brown and are typically brewed, then barrel-aged a year or more to allow them time to develop the complex, acidic, tart, and sour flavor characteristic of the style. Often a matured Sour is mixed with a younger counterpart to balance the flavor before bottling. ABV varies widely, but usually ranges from 5% to 8%.
- Stouts & Porters - Today, Belgian Stouts are more common than Belgian Porters and subdivide into sweeter and drier, and stronger and weaker versions. Sweeter Belgian Stouts resemble the almost-defunct British style "Milk Stout", while the stronger ones are sometimes described as Export or Imperial Stouts.
- Lambics - Lambics typically undergo a lengthy aging period -- from several months to several years -- to produce a distinctive dry, sour, wild flavor. The addition of fruit adds sweetness to a sour base, tending to diminish in proportion to the length of secondary fermentation. ABV ranges from 3% to 8%. Fruit ales are often sweeter and have a higher ABV.
- Oak-Aged Ales - The three most common types of oak used by brewers are American, French and Hungarian, each with its own balance of flavor and complexity. Oak is full of flavorful and aromatic compounds that can add depth and complexity to beers. Flavor components may include caramel, clove, vanilla, coconut, cinnamon, and toast.
You may want to hold off on venturing into the Strong ales and Dark ales (which have a higher ABV) until you are more familiar. Belgian beers typically have a higher ABV (Alcohol by Volume) when compared to your standard American pilsner or lager which usually has somewhere between 4% - 6% ABV.
You may want to hold off on trying Sour Ales, Lambics, Saisons, & Seasonal ales, until you have a better idea of the more "standard" Belgian Styles. There are many different styles that are a bit out of the realm of your typical American styles.